Lesson 1 Lecture & Discussion
Film as an Art

Letís Talk Movies: A Course Introduction

Movies arenít just a source of entertainment―the technology and the art have become pervasive elements of the 21st-century world. If your job involves using a computer, and you spend any significant amount of leisure time watching TV or going to movies, you may very well be spending more of your day looking at screens than looking at the real world!

When you understand the technology, techniques, and meaningful messages that make movie magic possible, watching and discussing a film will be even more rewarding.

Thatís a revolutionary change from the way things were for the first 10,000 years of civilization. Since we spend so much time with these screens, and with the images that flicker across them, we had better understand how this technology communicates to us. How do we interpret moving pictures (and recorded sound)? How do we connect them to the realities that are their source? What are the techniques that filmmakers use to entertain us, move us, or inform us?

This is the premise of How to Read a Film.

If you asked people on the street whether they knew how to "read" a film, they would undoubtedly look at you funny. "You donít have to know how to Ďreadí a film!" theyíd exclaim. Well, thatís true to a certain extent, but itís also untrue. If youíve grown up with TV and movies, then you accept what they tell you without thinking. In some crude way, you have already learned how to "read" a film.

But imagine if youíd never seen moving pictures before. Then, when confronted with a movie, you would probably be fascinated, perhaps somewhat frightened, and certainly confused. How did those people get so small? How did that face get so large? Where is the music coming from? Whoa! Whatís this new scene? Where did it come from? What happened to the other one?

You get the idea.

More important, even when you are thoroughly comfortable with even the most sophisticated styles of filmmaking, you still donít know how filmmakers do what they do, how they make you feel or think, laugh or cry―not until you understand a little about the language that is film.

Thatís why weíre here: to try to understand that language together.

If you havenít already done so, please take a moment to read the "Instructor Welcome" posting on the message board. It contains a lot of important information about how this class will operate, and will be helpful in guiding you through the various components of each lesson.

As for the content of each of those lessons, this course has been designed to answer many of the basic questions about filmmaking that you probably have. Each lesson builds on the concepts youíve explored and the knowledge youíve gained in previous lessons, building to an overall class experience that will leave you with a new appreciation for, and understanding of, an amazing and dynamic art form. Perhaps youíre wondering about cameras, lenses, and different types of filmstock, and how they all work together to capture moving images. Maybe youíve always wanted to gain a greater appreciation for the role that sound plays in the cinematic experience. Or, have you always wondered why certain movies or directors are so celebrated and respected by many moviegoers? Regardless of what you want to learn about movies, or why you want to learn those things, this course has the answers you seek.

This first lesson concentrates on the larger world of the arts, the world that has nourished the relatively new art of film. Weíll then move on to the basics of film technology―and the techniques that that technology allows directors to use―in Lessons 2 and 3. In Lesson 4, weíll be focusing on how movies are put together both in time (montage) and in space (mise-en-scène). Lesson 5 will teach you how all types of sound are used in a film―from dialogue to musical scores to sound effects. Lesson 6 is devoted to the theory of the language of film, while Lesson 7 concentrates on post-production (everything involved in finishing a movie after the cameras have stopped rolling). Finally, Lesson 8 delves into the business of the movies, summarizes what weíve discussed in this course, and looks to the future of this still young medium.

Along the way, youíll be watching and commenting on several famous movies that will further illustrate the concepts made in class. Youíll also have a great opportunity to use the class message board to discuss these movies and cinematic concepts with your fellow classmates―itís your chance to hone your skills as a critic.

Itís going to be an exciting, fun, and informative class. So, as Bette Davis said in All About Eve (1950), "Fasten your seat belts!"